Opinion

Pharmacists Overlooked as a Relief Resource for COVID-19

By Ashley Garling
April 6, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Shelter-in-place orders are becoming increasingly more stringent across the country, and the need for health care access is greater than ever. However, if you’ve kept up with recent news reports, you may find that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act did not include expanding pharmacists’ ability to provide additional patient care. 

With over 314,000 pharmacists in the United States and most local pharmacies remaining open to help their communities, this oversight could cost patient lives.

Pharmacists may not be traditionally thought of as providers by the general public, but pharmacists are key components of hospital clinical teams. Residency-trained clinical pharmacists are board-certified specialists in 14 specialties from emergency medicine to infectious disease. 

Community pharmacists guard patient lives by verifying the appropriateness and safety of over 4.45 billion prescriptions every year. These community pharmacists also care directly for patients with an average of over 140 interactions daily, over 141 million phone calls, and by managing the chronic diseases of over 767,000 Medicare patients every year.

The pharmacy profession has developed rapidly since the late ’90s, changing from a focus of dispensing medications to now a sophisticated and complex Doctor of Pharmacy program. Most pharmacists in the United States have doctorates from these programs that are not unlike a medical doctor’s curriculum, but which exceed the minimum education requirements of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Although the primary focus of a pharmacist’s education is on medications, they are also educated on patient testing, immunization, assessment and treatment of all general health conditions. 

Pharmacists have been ranked as one of the top most-trusted health care professionals for the last 17 years and are not incentivized or benefit in any way by “Big Pharma” or insurance companies. Pharmacists can help patients save money on drugs by prescribing non-diagnostic medications, speaking to doctors about a more affordable medication and recommending alternative or over-the-counter treatments. 

Concern about health care accessibility is increasing across the country as COVID-19 continues to spread and overwhelm our health care system. Pharmacists are the only doctorate-educated health care professional available within 5 miles of 9 out of 10 Americans in rural communities, within 1.83 miles in metropolitan areas, and with over 67,000 pharmacies in the United States. Reports find that patients build more relationships with pharmacists by being seen 1.5 to 10 times more than their primary care doctor. 

Pharmacists are specially trained, highly trusted and widely accessible members that make a difference in our health care system. If health care legislation, like the Pharmacists and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, continues to be overlooked, pharmacists may have their hands tied in helping millions of Americans.  

Act now by contacting your local representatives and tell them pharmacists need to be recognized as health care providers. The United States must utilize all available resources to battle against the COVID-19 pandemic for the health and safety of our families and citizens. 

 

Dr. Ashley Garling is clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and a UT Austin public voices fellow of The OpEd Project.

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